Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Yes, share the joy of a battle hard-won over discrimination and cruelty. That gives hope where the odds overall are rigged in favor of the powerful few.

I wonder what would have happened if the 5-4 today had duplicated yesterday’s 5-4. Coming on top of the sequester and the arrogant rejection of any form of gun control, would that finally have sparked a massive public explosion of dissent?  Certainly those who fought militantly for gay rights, like the earlier courageous fighters for civil rights, would be capable of mounting a big response and moving millions in support. Maybe Justice Kennedy thought a bit about that, as might Chief Justice Roberts who controls the order in which decisions become public.

Kennedy’s occasional tilting of the 5-4 seesaw makes him no hero. (David Brooks today declared himself a big Kennedy fan.) The dominant five on today’s Supreme Court make a travesty of fairness, justice, and democracy. What they did to the Voting Rights Act is a disgrace, giving the go-ahead to frantic voter restriction schemes aimed at holding back the tide of demographic change and progress.

No cheers for Kennedy, but a big shout-out of happiness for those who fight so well in order to enjoy the elementary right to love and marriage.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


I imagine school children are still being taught about “checks and balances”. As we “learned” in public school long ago, the Supreme Court is designed to be above politics.

The Roberts court, 5-4, shows us what that’s all about in the USA today — not that we needed more lessons after Bush versus Gore and “Citizens United”.

The new rulings further limiting affirmative action and gutting the Voting Rights Act show us what gets “checked” and what doesn’t get “balanced”.  What the Court checks is any remnant of progressivism and civil rights that the reactionary bloc in Congress has been unable to wipe out directly. Texas is quick to show us what gets knocked out of balance: any restraint on restricting the right to vote. Texas is immediately instituting voter ID and discriminatory districting maps. The door is now open to the flood of state measures to make it more difficult for the poor and people of color to vote, an offensive that was only partially blocked before the 2012 elections.

Actually what is being checked today is the very ability of government to function in the public interest. With the present balance in Washington, there is a blockade against food stamps, assistance to the unemployed, jobs programs, debt relief for students, pre-school funding, and on and on. In contrast, permitted by so-called bipartisan consensus are massive military expenditures, trade “partnerships” that favor corporations and limit access to affordable medicine, a huge unconstitutional “intelligence” dragnet, and an hysterical search and destroy mission against whistleblowers.

Of course that’s not the whole story. Where people have gotten angry enough to take to the streets, as well as to lobby, petition and vote, some good causes have advanced, at least part of the way. Even where progress is made, the blockade does not give way, as we have seen with health care and now with immigrant rights. With gun control, even though it was favored by 90% of the public, the blockade wasn’t dented.

No one can predict when the tide may turn. But no significant shift can take place without breaking the blockade in Congress, defeating the GOP and some Democrats who hear the same corporate master’s voice. With the country moving forward, the Supreme Court’s present 5-4 imbalance would not last very long.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


PAST 90 (6)

My first sight of California was of rolling green hills. In profusion they marked a landscape arrestingly different from anything I had seen before. It was Spring, probably the year 1950.  I could see the green mounds up close from above because I was coming in low on a two propeller plane; no jets yet in those days.

Cheap flights, all I could manage on an organizing trip for the Labor Youth League (LYL), were available on what were called non-sched airlines. It took us 20 hours, with multiple stops, to get from New York to San Francisco. My plane was listed as “Viking Airlines”. For all I know, it might have been the only plane in the “fleet”. The return flight, a week or so later, was a story in itself that I’ll tell as the coda to my first adventure in California.

I stayed with Bill and Jeanne Lowe in a small rented Quonset hut in south Berkeley. Bill and Jeanne were newly married, but to accomplish that, they had to go to Washington State. Bill was black and Jeanne was white. Interracial marriage was illegal in California in the early1950s. Many years later, the Lowes hosted a big event at a downtown Oakland hotel to celebrate their 40th Anniversary with other couples who had to leave California to marry, as well as the first couples to marry after the state’s ban was lifted. Roz and I, living in California by then, were guests. I remember how moved we were, and the memory comes back often these days as gay couples win the fight for equal rights to marriage.

Bill was the LYL organizer for Northern California, and he was my guide on this first trip to the West Coast. He introduced me to many new things, some impressive and some simply little tips to smooth my way. He took me to Columbus St. in San Francisco, where an Italian restaurant served a seven-course meal for a dollar or two (can’t remember the exact price, but it was important to me then). He took me to a great ribs place in Oakland. He told me that the right lane was best driving across the Bay Bridge. When we got up in the mornings, I noticed that he slept in a nightshirt — that seemed odd to me at the time, but, soon after, nightshirts became my favorite sleepwear.

The most memorable thing Bill pointed out to me was on a drive to a meeting in Los Angeles. We went through a valley town that featured a big sign; “No n-----s after sundown.”

In Los Angeles, during a meeting in a home, I experienced my first earthquake. That’s not quite accurate. Everyone else experienced it and exclaimed “earthquake!” I hadn’t noticed. The next day, in the same home, I felt a strong shake and exclaimed “earthquake!”. The others had a good laugh — it was the washing machine that shook the house.

Now for the coda, my flight home. My “Viking” non-sched made a landing in Kansas City. The passengers got off for a short break and a stretch. When we came back to board, there was a surprise. The plane had been attached at the airport and we were on our own. Stranded, and me without cash.... panic! But then I called home and got the phone number of Roz’s cousin, who, luckily for me, lived in Kansas City. I borrowed money to get the rest of the way home, this time not on a “non-sched”.

California has so much incredible beauty. I can never get enough of it after living here for more than 50 years, but it seems that’s not what I remember most about my first encounter.

Post Script, 6/25/13 - I asked Jeanne Lowe to fact check my memory of the trip made 60+years ago. She writes: "We lived in Codornices Veterans Village, as did many other LYLers. I believe it was 1951 or 52 that you came here. We were married on May 14th, 1948. Later in '48, the California law was repealed." Jeanne went on to point out that federal law sanctioned state 'anti-miscegenation' laws until 1967, when the Supreme Court ruled them unconstitutional. Under these laws, Jeanne adds,"Caucasians were not allowed to marry Filipinos or Asians as well as Blacks."

Thursday, June 13, 2013


A friend asked what I thought about a NY Times column (6/12/13) by Thomas Friedman. Friedman wants to ‘blow the whistle’ on whistleblowers like Edward Snowden. He argues that we should support the secret “intelligence” programs exposed by Snowden because, if there is another 9/11 type attack, the public’s reaction would really put an end to civil liberties.

Agreed that it's important to thwart potential attacks — but do we accomplish that by creating a universal dragnet and trusting CIA, NSA, and a huge conglomerate of private contractors to operate it under the cloak of "classified" secrecy? 

It is specious to argue that we should go along with elements of a police state system now because it might become a full-blown reality later. The crux of the matter is that this "state security" machine is developing as a permanent apparatus, subject to manipulation by whoever is in power. If you don't rein it in consistent with basic Constitutional principles, if you continue to endow it with emergency war powers, you simply can't trust that it will never be used against the innocent or the public interest in general. There's plenty to fear if we remember our own history: the Palmer raids and current round-ups of immigrants, armed violence against strikers by the National Guard and private vigilante organizations, police terror against civil rights protesters, and lots more. There is the sorry saga of gross abuses of power by such as Richard Nixon, Joe McCarthy, and J. Edgar Hoover.

Obama's recent speech on why it's necessary to end the Global War on Terror, the incompatibility of permanent war with democracy, is very much to the point (although deeds speak louder than words; see blog posts 5/27 and 6/10). Listening to Edward Snowden's interview with the Guardian was a lot more convincing to me than Friedman's column.

Monday, June 10, 2013


I just listened to Democracy Now, Monday, June 10, 2013. It included the interview of whistleblower Edward Snowden with Guardian columnist, Glenn Greenwald, followed by Amy Goodman‘s interview with Greenwald.

Please, click above on each one in turn, watch and listen. You may have seen a snippet on television of Snowden’s self-outing as the source of the revelations about the vast “national security” dragnet. If the whole country saw Snowden’s full interview, the all too predictable counter attack by the media and politicians would lose credibility point by point.

What’s your impression as you see and hear Snowden?

The press refers to him dismissively as a “high school drop out”; he’s accused of breaching the country’s most vital security defenses. What we actually see is a most remarkable young man, straight forward and articulate, no posturing, extremely reasoned and thoughtful about what he did and why. He was completely responsible, not releasing information that could jeopardize individuals or harm the country. Then there is the calm awareness and courage with which he faces the life-changing consequences of having infuriated the world’s most powerful secret spy apparatus. It’s hard to imagine anyone with a modicum of open-mindedness not being impressed, not stopping to think. True, I started out angry about the Big Brother dragnet, but I was very moved by what I saw and heard from this young man.

As for actual disclosures, the media whistles in the dark that there’s nothing to worry about: ‘in this day and age, privacy is an anachronism and the government isn’t going to use its gigantic data trove against us.’ Is that so? What has grown up is a Big Brother mega machine that aims to be permanent and to keep growing independent of elections and who happens to be on top.  Perhaps the most alarming development is that the national security apparatus is a merger of secret government agencies with a huge and powerful private corporate network. Snowden gives us a peek into a system inevitably vulnerable to corruption, undercover manipulation and abuse.

Trust that? Trust Big Brother only to watch, never to turn on our own people in times of crisis and unrest? Think Nixon and Watergate. Think Blackwater in Iraq. Look around the world and think again.

There’s a good case to be made for whistleblowing to protect democracy and civil liberties. Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning have put up their lives to make that case.

Saturday, June 8, 2013


PAST 90 (5)

This is not really a "memoir" vignette — just a little confession in lieu of a proper apology to people whose email I treated carelessly by forgetting to keep the recipient list private. I have a strange syndrome that I can't pass off on my advanced years since it's happened before. I'm usually punctual and "never" forget to keep an appointment; but if it happens once in a blue moon, then it's certain to be repeated in short order once or even twice. Similarly, when I send email to a group of friends, I "always" use "bcc" so no one's privacy is abused. But "always" now includes two exceptions within the past two days.

Strange that this should happen coincident with current disclosures of the government's Big Brother surveillance dragnet. Small comfort for me to know that even if I used "bcc", Google would likely have no trouble informing spy agencies and marketers on demand, privacy be damned.

Anyway, I'm sorry again; hope there's not another next time.

Thursday, June 6, 2013


There’s no way the Obama Administration can explain away its use of the “Patriot” Act to spy secretly and massively on the American people. To persist in expanding the National Security State through catch-all surveillance and monitoring of phone calls is as indefensible as it is deadly dangerous.

Once again, the deed belies the word. Credence in the President’s argument for ending the so-called Global War on Terror is undermined even before it registers in public consciousness and in the political arena.

Obama criticizes and calls for change, but his loyalty to the basic features of the power structure gets in the way. The system — increasingly a plutocracy — generally prevails. The only remedy is public anger over the extraordinary incursions against civil liberties. The new disclosure of “Patriot” Act atrocities makes it even more urgent to defeat the reactionary bloc in Congress that refuses to allow any measure of progress or consideration for the people.

Only a storm of defiant protest can translate words into respect for civil liberties and action to terminate the crushing reign of the Global War on Terror. That’s what we know from those movements that “overcome”: those that actually move the country for change in favor of civil rights, gay rights and equality for immigrants.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


PAST 90 (4)

On May 1, 1930, when I was 9 years old and in the 4th grade, something happened that has reverberated through all the years of my life. I’ve told the story before and won’t repeat all the details here. That was the day my father and eleven others were brutally beaten inside the police station in Stamford, Connecticut.

They had been arrested at a large peaceful May Day demonstration, for which the Mayor had denied a permit. My father and a few others had been arrested the previous March 6th at a huge peaceful rally for unemployment insurance, also banned by the City. Those arrested on May 1st were taken out of their cells one by one and four policemen stomped and assaulted them methodically, each in turn, with brass knuckles and clubs, breaking one man’s ankle and another’s arm. They were left back in their cells to bleed without medical attention. When word leaked out to my mother, she got our family doctor to demand entry and he was allowed to bandage the wounds.

(Maybe you thought things like that only happened in the Jim Crow South. Police brutality was common across the country, as was Jim Crow itself even where it wasn’t written into law. Of course, for young Blacks and Latinos of today, that’s not just history. No doubt the police in Stamford in 1930 were goaded to enhanced ferocity by the very fact that their victims were Black and white together, when friendship across color lines was rare indeed and always raised a red flag for “law enforcement”.)    

My mother, less passionate about politics than about literature and music, could be fearless and formidable in confronting bullies. When my brother Malcolm and I, with our parents, were brought before the Superintendent of Schools because we stayed out of school on May Day, Mother went on the offensive. She scolded the Superintendent for presuming to lecture us on “patriotism” after the City authorities answered “free speech” with such violence.  My father, sitting there with bandaged head, was quiet as Mother accused. Then she took up an old grievance of her own, remembering the Superintendent and the current police chief as boys who threw stones and shouted “kike” at her father as he went about with his push cart.

I could segue from this May Day story to many related matters, but for today it’s mainly about my mother.

Growing up as the only girl among nine siblings in a poor Jewish orthodox home, Rose had to become strong or have her spirit broken. “Orthodox” in any religion spells subordination of women, denial of their intelligence, individuality and dignity. She managed to get some schooling through the ninth grade, left home for a marriage at eighteen. The short marriage didn’t work out, and she returned home with a baby girl, my sister Clare. With life more onerous and humiliating than before, somehow she blossomed into a self-made intellectual. She met and married my father in her late twenties.

My mother devoured books, from ancient to modern classics. She knew and loved classical music and opera. How she got that breadth of knowledge and culture, I really don’t know. When I was writing compositions in high school, she was my first critic. She would point out shortcomings in substance or expression, and I would argue reflexively in self-defense. An hour or so later, the light would dawn and I had learned something.

To get back to May 1930, Rose had to be strong for the life that was ahead. My father’s leadership of the unemployed and workers’ movement in Stamford brought him a “promotion”. He became District Organizer of the Communist Party of Connecticut and Western Massachusetts. The family moved to New Haven. The flat my father had rented turned out to be occupied by bed bugs and roaches. My mother got us out of there in two weeks. Remember, it was the Great Depression, so options for a family in poverty were limited. We moved into a rented home that was clean, light and roomy, but the only heat was the kitchen kerosene stove. I was skinny, and I can feel how cold I was to this very day. Anyway, we couldn’t keep up with the rent and, after nine months, had to move to a cheap (but clean) tenement flat.

That’s almost enough for this installment. Let’s leave it with the fact that my parents never rose to luxury over the next twelve eventful years in New Haven. When I got married in 1942, the newlyweds spent the night on a small couch in the living room of my parents’ one bedroom apartment.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


PAST 90 (3)

This world is not the one my parents hoped their children would live to see. Like many immigrants, they lived through extraordinary sacrifice and struggle convinced they were making things better for the next generation. But their dream was not future prosperity and successful careers for their sons and daughter. They were among the social visionaries and revolutionary idealists of the first half of the Twentieth Century who believed that a new world was in birth.

As it happens, their offspring eventually moved out of the poverty shared during childhood and youth. Their sons achieved successful professional careers, not without travail along the way. But the world fashioned of their struggles and dreams — where exploitation, poverty and war were no more — may seem farther off today than when my parents died in 1964.

I don’t doubt for a minute the lasting value of how they chose to devote their lives.

Part of them is in every hard won social gain of their lifetime, from Social Security to Medicare. They were among the relatively few white Americans who refused to abide segregation from the time of the Scotsboro case and the scourge of lynchings to the unquenchable uprising against Jim Crow near the end of their days. They were builders of unions that fueled social progress during and after the New Deal. They were anti-fascists before the world woke up, supporting Republican Spain against crushing odds — odds that changed when most nations joined together to overwhelm fascism at the cost of millions upon millions of lives. They fought McCarthyism, too, before it was fashionable and when persecution was the price of dissent.

Of course, I’m not just speaking of my parents, but of thousands of progressives and radicals, “reds” and freedom fighters of various stripes. How could I not be proud of that legacy? How could I not wish to be part of it?

Late in life, my parents began to perceive illusions and delusions that kept some of us in denial about cruel realities that violated our basic values and distorted our world of hopes. Since I shared those delusions and have lived long enough to think a lot about them, I prefer to deal with them later in the context of my own experience. I have written about some of this in my book, but life goes on in all its complications and there’s always need to rethink.

I want to talk more about my parents and tell a few childhood stories still vivid after 80 or so years….